Tagged: “secondary forgiveness”

Can witnesses to abuse forgive the abuser even though the witnesses were not the ones harmed? For example, suppose one child is scapegoated in the family. Could a sibling, now an adult, who did not experience the parental wrath forgive the parents?

Yes, the adult child who was not abused can feel free to forgive the parent for abusing the adult child’s sibling. Trudy Govier, a philosopher in Canada, refers to this as secondary forgiveness. The abused child, who wishes to forgive, would be engaging in primary forgiveness.

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What is secondary forgiveness?

The philosopher, Trudy Govier (2002) has used this term.  Secondary forgiveness occurs when you are hurt because of a person’s actions toward a loved one. In other words, the mother truly is offended and hurt when someone bullies her daughter in school. It is secondary in the sense that the mother was not directly bullied. Yet, the fact that she is resentful and legitimately so because of the actions toward her daughter, the mother then can go ahead and forgive the one who bullies. It is important to note that the mother is not forgiving the one who bullies on behalf of the daughter. It still is up to the daughter to offer primary forgiveness or not. It is the daughter’s choice. The mother’s forgiveness does not substitute for the daughter’s response.

Govier, T. (2002). Forgiveness and revenge.  New York: Routledge.

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I started the process of forgiving my mother. As I went on this journey, I realized that she was treated very badly by my grandmother, who passed away before I was born.  Should I also forgive my grandmother, even though I never met her?

Yes, you can forgive your grandmother.  This is what the philosopher, Trudy Govier, calls secondary forgiveness.  Even though your grandmother was not directly unjust to you, she was indirectly unjust to you because of what she did to your mother.

You might want to read this essay from Psychology Today: Can You Forgive a Person Who Has Died? 

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